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Fleet Street

A modern big band interpretaion of the hit musical, “Sweeney Todd.”

  • Fleet Street
  • Fleet Street
  • Fleet Street
  • Fleet Street
  • Fleet Street
  • Fleet Street

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Compact Disc

$14.99

Download

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Download includes the complete album in 320 kbps MP3 format, along with the CD artwork in PDF format.

In 1979 Broadway history was made. Sweeney Todd, that diabolical demon barber of London’s Fleet Street, emerged onto the stage in Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece of musical theatre. The moods and melodies are exquisite. The drama is timeless. There is great beauty and great darkness.

Composer Terry Vosbein witnessed the magic that summer and was moved to tears. Now, over thirty years later, he has blended Sondheim’s dramatic compositions with his own quirky big band style and come up with a modern jazz masterpiece.

TRACKS

  • A Barber and His Wife
  • The Ballad of Sweeney Todd
  • Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir
  • Green Finch and Linnet Bird
  • My Friends
  • Wait
  • Ladies in Their Sensitivities
  • Pretty Women
  • Johanna
  • By The Sea
  • Not While I’m Around
  • Johanna – Act II
  • The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, reprise

AUDIO EXCERPTS

00:00
00:00
  1. 01 The Barber and His Wife
  2. 02 The Ballad of Sweeney Todd
  3. 03 Pirelli's Miracle Elixir
  4. 04 Green Finch and Linnet Bird
  5. 05 My Friends
  6. 06 Wait
  7. 07 Ladies in Their Sensitivities
  8. 08 Pretty Women
  9. 09 Johanna
  10. 10 By The Sea
  11. 11 Not While I’m Around
  12. 12 Johanna – Act II
  13. 13 The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, reprise

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REVIEWS

“A stunner.” (Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal) read more…

"Fleet Street" is another stunner, the work of Mr. Vosbein, a composer and arranger who teaches composition at Washington and Lee University and is far from a household name. This full-length instrumental treatment of "Sweeney Todd," Mr. Sondheim's 1979 masterpiece, is not only a tribute to Mr. Sondheim, but also to bandleader Stan Kenton; the overall groove and tonal colors of "Fleet Street" owe much to Kenton's classic 1962 jazz version of "West Side Story" (with lyrics also by Mr. Sondheim).

Like Kenton's arranger Johnny Richards, Mr. Vosbein relies heavily on deeply voiced trombones to paint a dark, somber portrait—highly suited to a heavy melodrama about serial killing and cannibalism. But while "West Side Story" is a dance-oriented show with lots of songs in tempo, Mr. Vosbein has to look hard for lighter moments in the "Sweeney Todd" score, and he makes the most of them. "Green Finch aand Linnet Bird" is almost a throwaway on stage, but it now becomes a major part of "Fleet Street," as do the two versions of "Johanna" (reflecting the way it's sung in Act 1, as a ballad, and Act 2, much more upbeat).

“An album of enormous professional maturity and sensitivity..” (Marc Myers, JazzWax.com) read more…

Remember when jazz orchestras skillfully adapted the music of Broadway musicals? Notable examples from the '50s and '60s include Les Brown's Dance to South Pacific (1958) and Stan Kenton's West Side Story (1961). Rather than send up cute pop caricatures, the best arrangers crafted interpretations that often were bigger, bolder and more dynamic than the originals. Add Terry Vosbein's new Fleet Street (MFM) to the list.

Terry who? Terry is a composer, arranger and educator at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA. On Fleet Street, Terry conducts the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra through his arrangements of Stephen Sondheim's music from Sweeney Todd. The result is superb reworking and a throwback to an age of introspective interpretation.

Even if you aren't completely familiar with Sweeney Todd, this album radiates with writing intelligence. At times the arrangements feel like brooding Johnny Richards charts for Kenton. At other times there are swinging shades of Bill Holman. And at every turn, the music captivates you with its dramatic, jazzy feel and fine understanding of how to improve on a brilliant original.

The immediate beauty of Fleet Street is that it never bogs down in somber neo-classical configurations. From the start, Fleet Street swings, zig-zags and constantly catches your ear before shifting into new territory. And it's big. There are 20 musicians here—five saxes, five trombones, five trumpets and a five-piece rhythm section.

As Vosbein told an interviewer:

“From the moment that I first saw Sweeney Todd in 1979, when it was brand new, I thought it was the most amazing thing that I had ever seen on every level—the performance, the writing, the dialogue. I've always loved it.

“When I was working on my previous CD for the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra (Progressive Jazz 2009), I had finished the music and had some time. So I wrote an arrangement of Johanna, one of the pieces from Sweeney Todd, and we added that piece to the album. Maybe I always knew I was going to come back to it, but I thought once the first piece was completed that I should continue and do the whole show."

Born in New Orleans, Vosbein has composed works for orchestra, wind ensemble, various chamber ensembles and choir, and he has written works for jazz bands of all sizes. Fleet Street is an album of enormous professional maturity and sensitivity.

Sample Pretty Women, Wait, The Ballad of Sweeney Todd (Reprise) and Not While I'm Around. An album like this would be impossible if Vosbein didn't have enormous reverence for Stan Kenton and his arrangers. To pull off such a project, you need a sense of grandeur, restraint, a love for beautiful melody lines, respect for those lines and an ear that has done an enormous amount of careful listening.

Most of all, you need to know your big-band audience. And Vosbein does.

“One of the most exciting new big band albums of recent years.” (Pat Goodhope, International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal) read more…
What a great joy it is to pick up a completely unknown CD, knowing little or nothing about its makers or its contents and then loving what you hear. Aren't we all excited by those occasional moments? It is one of the many joys of this lifelong pursuit of more and more music. As cynical as I know I can be going in before that first sound emerges from the speakers, it is so thrilling on those rare occasions to be happily surprised. That is what happened to me with this exceptional album. It has to be counted as one of the most exciting new big band albums of recent years.

For some background, New Orleans born Terry Vosbein has been a music composition teacher at Washington and Lee University who also happens to be a world class classical composer with numerous commissions to his credit from various organizations such as the Cleveland Symphony. Having played music of all kinds as a bassist, he has also composed and arranged for jazz bands of all configurations.

Vosbein's work here in writing arrangements from the score of Steven Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is sensational. Fresh, modern and original, there seem to be no overwhelming writing influences exhibited in his orchestrations short of a Kenton-like affection for trombones. Certainly no complaints with that! This set swings fiercely at times and purrs quietly at times, surging and swelling to blazing shout choruses with all the roar of any full throated big band. This outfit is simply on fire. Considering the history of album length jazz interpretations of the major Broadway shows, much of Sondheim's post "Gypsy" work seems to have been forgotten by the jazz world. Vosbein and the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra resolve that here in a dramatic way. (As a side note, there is another marvelous new Sondheim tribute album out by pianist Billy Mays and bassist Tommy Cecil called Side By Side Sondheim Duos. Get your- self this one too.)

The writing on this set is busy, no question, but always interesting and yet there is still plenty of room for the soloists to breath. This Knoxville Jazz Orchestra plays it all with such a visceral joy that there is no doubt the musicians love to play these charts. And wouldn't this program be something to see presented live? My guess is that it would have to be that much more scintillating in person than on record. It grabs you in the overwhelming way a great big band can, carrying you away with that roar of sound and emotion.

Terry Vosbein and the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra may be little known outside of Tennessee but this album demands to be heard. Track this CD down, fire up your speakers and wail. The remaining question is whether Stephen Sondheim has heard this album and what he thinks of it.
“The voice that emerges is unmistakably Vosbein's, placing a fresh and indelible big-band stamp on Sondheim's cogent narrative.” (Jack Bowers, All About Jazz) read more…
Arranger Terry Vosbein has a knack for taking themes that may at first glance seem unsuitable for a big band, especially in a jazz context, and making them work quite well within that framework. On Fleet Street, Vosbein addresses music composed by Stephen Sondheim for the blood-soaked Broadway musical Sweeney Todd and, ably abetted by the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, transforms it into a tasteful medley that gladdens the ear and enlivens the spirit in the best tradition of contemporary orchestration.

Although it is presumptuous to draw any firm conclusions, this is one possible direction in which big-band trend-setter Stan Kenton might have gone had he remained alive to carry the torch into the twenty-first century. Clearly, there are echoes of the Kenton style and sound in Vosbein's strong and voluptuous charts, which accentuate the ensemble while making room for perceptive solo statements by its various members. Throughout, Vosbein remains true to Sondheim's vision, never downplaying the composer's precocity or melodicism in favor of his own scenario. Having said that, the voice that emerges is unmistakably Vosbein's, placing a fresh and indelible big-band stamp on Sondheim's cogent narrative.

Even though a handful of his songs ("Maria," "Send in the Clowns," "I Feel Pretty," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "Tonight") have enjoyed a measure of popular success, Sondheim writes for the theatre, not for a wider audience, and so most of the songs here may be unfamiliar. Nevertheless, they are consistently charming, and at least one—"Not While I'm Around"—encompasses a melody that beguiles the mind long after it has been heard. The others are simply Sondheim, and for most champions of superior music no more need be said, save that Vosbein not only amplifies their most desirable qualities but also makes sure they swing.

As for the KJO, it's about as proficient a regional ensemble as could be hoped for, diving earnestly into Vosbein's multi-layered charts and bestowing on each one a special warmth and vitality. Brass and reeds are snug and resourceful, the rhythm section (anchored by drummer Keith Brown) alert and flexible. Soloists too are a cut above the norm. Trombonist Tom Lundberg is showcased on the opener, "The Barber and His Wife," trumpeters Rich Willey and Stewart Cox on "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" and "By the Sea," respectively. Others who elevate the discourse include Brown, trumpeter Michael Wyatt, altos David King and Doug Rinaldo, tenors Alan Wyatt and Will Boyd, trombonist Don Hough, pianist Ben Dockery and percussionist David Knight.

In his earlier album with the KJO, Progressive Jazz 2009, Vosbein confronted music by Bob Graettinger, Pete Rugolo, Claude Debussy and even one song repeated here (Sondheim's "Johanna"). He showed his prowess on that occasion, and has done so again. This is Sondheim neatly redesigned and tailor-made for big-band enthusiasts.
“Easily merits a place alongside Kenton’s West Side Story, and is most certainly worthy of Grammy consideration.” (Robert J. Robbins, Big Band International Magazine) read more…
In 1979, Stephen Sondheim’s epic musical thriller Sweeney Todd (The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) premiered on Broadway and quickly scooped up eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. About six months after the production’s opening, legendary bandleader Stan Kenton passed away in Los Angeles. Among the audiences during Sweeney’s initial Broadway run was an aspiring 25-year-old composer (and bassist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra) named Terry Vosbein, who was also a veteran of numerous Kenton clinics and summer Jazz Orchestra In Residence programs. 

Thirty-two years later, Vosbein, now a Professor of Music at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA, has injected his love for Sondheim’s monumental score into his lifelong admiration for Kenton, and the result is a near-perfect synthesis of two musical geniuses (Kenton’s only previous association with Sondheim, aside from the former’s Grammy-winning 1961 adaptation of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story for which the young Sondheim had provided the lyrics, was Dave Barduhn’s arrangement of “Send In the Clowns”, from A Little Night Music, on the Kenton ’76 album). 

From the opening trombone choir on “The Barber and his Wife” to the final explosion of Keith Brown’s drums, the Kenton aura is steadfastly maintained, reflecting the influences of such iconoclastic Kenton-affiliated composer/arrangers as Pete Rugolo, Bill Russo, Bob Graettinger, Gene Roland, Johnny Richards, Bill Holman, Dee Barton, and Willie Maiden.

Foremost among the band’s soloists is trombonist Tom Lundberg, who represents a continuation of Kenton’s lead/solo trombone legacy epitomized by Kai Winding, Milt Bernhart, Bob “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, and Dick Shearer, and whether quoting Sondheim’s “archrival” Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber (“King Herod’s Song” from Jesus Christ Superstar) in “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” or joining section mate Don Hough in a duet on “My Friends” (a paean originally sung by Todd to his long-lost razors in the production!), Lundberg is consistently outstanding.

Vosbein’s arrangements of “Johanna” and “Not While I’m Around” faithfully echo the Kenton ballad tradition, with solos from Lundberg, Hough, and lead trumpeter Stewart Cox on the former, and pianist Ben Dockery, lead altoist Doug Rinaldo, trumpeter Mike Wyatt, and (of course) Lundberg on the latter.  Other soloists include tenor saxists Alan Wyatt (“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”, “Pretty Women”), altoist Dave King, trumpeter Rich Willey (“Green Finch and Linnet Bird”), and Latin percussionist David Knight.

In my book, Fleet Street easily merits a place alongside Kenton’s West Side Story, which was recorded a half-century earlier, and is most certainly worthy of Grammy consideration.